The Role of Technology in Advancing Urban Agriculture

Agriculture technology has boomed in the last several decades and increased production, sustainability and profitability within the industry. A growing population has caused agribusinesses to embrace technology and find innovative solutions to keep up with demand. Urban agriculture involves cultivating, processing and distributing agriculture products within urban areas. It is projected that by 2050, 68 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Some examples of urban farming include community gardens, rooftop farms, vertical production, hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic facilities. Agriculture technology plays an important role in urban agriculture’s success. Let’s discuss some of the key technologies advancing urban agriculture and making urban cities more sustainable and resilient.

Urban Farm Systems

Vertical farms grow crops in an indoor, controlled environment utilizing hydroponic systems with stacked growing beds. In urban areas where land availability is limited, the innovation of vertical farming offers many benefits. Some of the advantages of vertical farming include growing with 95 percent less water, less pesticide use and the ability to grow year round. There are many technologies that are involved in vertical farms. Since these plants are grown indoors, LED lights act as grow lights for the products grown in these vertical farms. Hydroponics are often used as a method of growing in vertical farms. This technology grows plants in a water-based nutrient solution as opposed to using traditional soil. Advantages of using hydroponic systems in vertical farms include no pests and weeds, optimal use of water, controlled nutrients, and higher yields.

Aeroponics is another technology used in vertical farms. Root systems require no growing medium and are exposed to the air. These plants are usually misted but require significantly less water, have a low chance of disease and have better oxygen access. Aquaponic systems are also being utilized in urban areas to supply fish and produce. This technology breaks down fish waste and uses it as fertilizer for growing crops. Rooftop farms in urban areas not only provide food for urban citizens, but they provide many environmental benefits like reducing heat islands and filtering pollution from the air.

Smart Farming

Farmers use smart technologies to collect, process and access data to inform farming decisions. This shift in the industry to utilizing devices, sensors and data analytics has increased productivity across the industry. An example of an IoT (internet of things) based smart farming technology is the use of sensors that collect data on soil, air, water and climate forecasting. By making this data available on mobile and web applications, urban farmers can adjust their

practices according to data given. One unique feature about this technology is the ability to turn on or off connected devices like water pumps or growing lights. The integration of these types of technologies into urban farming helps to increase productivity and efficiency with easier management of the farms as well as detecting any issues early on. The collected data can also be shared among urban farmer stakeholders to improve best practices within the industry.

A concern within the agriculture industry regarding urban farms is the energy it takes to run urban farming systems. Technologies are helping farmers mitigate these costs through farm management platforms. Agriculture experts are involved in taking these technologies to market that will improve efficiency in urban farming. Just as precision farming is integrated into traditional farming practices, these technologies help optimize operations to minimize energy consumption. For example, tools such as a growth recipe libraries, production and performance analytics, capacity management module, and online support from agronomists are provided to urban farmers.

Automated Systems

Since the goal of urban farming is to bring more food to urban areas efficiently, automated systems are implemented into the farming systems. Examples of automation on urban farms include planting seeds, transferring seedlings into vertical farming beds, automated watering, lighting and fertilizing. These systems lower the amount of labor needed for urban farms, which offsets the cost required to maintain the crops. Other automated technologies assisting urban farms are vision systems that capture crops using cameras to monitor growth and plant needs. Additionally, robotic technology can harvest crops as well as clean the farm beds for immediate replanting.

Final Thoughts

As the agriculture industry works to feed a growing population while facing many global challenges, urban agriculture offers hope. The United States Department of Agriculture is investing $7.4 million dollars into urban agriculture production efforts. Agriculture businesses recognize the need to support technologies that will increase production efficiently. Urban agriculture would not be as advanced without the incorporation of technologies that enhance the productivity and efficiency of urban agriculture systems. Ultimately, the focus on urban agriculture will increase, and it plays an important role in feeding the world.

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